Designing a Mobile Tutorial (or lack of)

I recently encountered the following article whilst working on the tutorial for my new app: Rethinking Mobile Tutorials: Which Patterns Really Work?. Here’s part of the abstract:

“In this post, we’ll look at why many common tutorial patterns are ineffective and how you can leverage game design principles to increase user engagement.”

The article starts by using games as an example of a domain where tutorials are typically handled well. Referencing some guidelines from a video called “Tutorials 101” (which I didn’t watch), it goes on to look at how the following rules relate to regular apps:

  1. Use less text.
  2. Don’t frontload.
  3. Make it fun.
  4. Reinforce learning through play.
  5. Listen to your players.

If you’re working on a tutorial (at some point), there are some interesting points worth consideration, despite the article taking its time to make some of them…

Do you (should you) need a tutorial?

In slight contrast, I was recently reminded of Apple’s guidance in this area. Consider the following extract from the Starting and Stopping section of the iOS Human Interface Guidelines.

Think carefully before providing an onboarding experience. (Onboarding introduces an app’s features and explains how to perform common tasks.) Before you consider onboarding, make every effort to design your app so that all its features and tasks are intuitive and easily discoverable. Onboarding is not a substitute for good app design…

The documentation goes on to outline the following concepts, should you feel the need for a tutorial (onboarding experience):

  • Give users only the information they need to get started.
  • Use animation and interactivity to engage users and help them learn by doing.
  • Make it easy to dismiss or skip the onboarding experience.

The tutorial for Codename: Instalist

(I don’t have a name for the new app, yet. The Insta- prefix isn’t something that I’d happily use these days, but it’s served well as a codename).

James sent me the link to the iOS HIG as we were reviewing the second iteration of the tutorial. I’d already binned the first approach and started again; funny, that redesign happened just after my last post on getting beta feedback.

I was partially pleased, at least, as I’d focussed on the following:

  • Make it easy to back out of the tutorial at any point.
  • Make it interactive. The user uses the app as they progress and the main “learning” is handled with a real to-do list.

But the guidelines did make me stop and think. Why have I implemented a tutorial? It’s a simple app, should I even need one?

In part, I simply wanted to try the process, to make a good tutorial. I’ve never provided one before and, personally, I’ve always like the feel of well-made tutorials I’ve experienced in other apps. They’re part of the polish that contributes to a good experience.

Alone, that’s not a good enough reason to include a significant piece of workflow/UI in an application. The tutorial I’ve got does add value, but it’s worth another review…

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